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The Comedy of Errors

Art Review: Visions of a Free-Floating Island at Surface Gallery

3 October 18 words: Adrian Shaw

This cracking exhibition at Surface Gallery showcased new work from Hugh Marwood, Andrew Smith and Shaun Morris; their art reflecting many of the ideological and psychological challenges facing the UK post-Brexit. Our writer Adrian Shaw popped in to have a look and tell us all abaht it...

Hugh Marwood 'Fridge'

‘There are conversations going on between the artworks’ raising fresh points which we become aware of...’ (Artists’ Talk comment, Hugh Marwood, et al)

This exhibition is the collective view of the three artists exhibiting their latest work at this really stimulating and fresh-looking show, which examines the condition of our post-Brexit island. The trio of artists have been working together since 2012 and, although there are differences in their individual approaches, they have a lot in common as artists, and have a cohesiveness in the presentation of individual viewpoints and experiences.

This was a very British show; it personally appealed to me as an artist looking at both inner and outer spaces. The personal and political were allowed space and opportunity to speak and exchange their views. The post-Brexit negativity that we see in our daily lives, the personal fury in public debates between the two sides of the nation and the negativity against wider ideals does, at least, have the benefit of producing great art such as the works presented in this gallery. Although the politics were Left-leaning, the efforts of all three artists also spoke of working-out the personal and psychological perspectives of wider political experiences and well-being, which one feels is increasingly needful today.

After a thorough examination of the work on show, we, the punters, were privileged on the penultimate Saturday afternoon, to hear the artists talk and partake in discussions on ideas indicated, and added to, on our exposure to their efforts.

The first artist, Hugh Marwood, had a downstairs, 2-D wall-based exhibition known as the ‘Flagging’ series where he takes the Union Flag as a base, and then adds a montage-collagist overlying finish involving text and colourful, seemingly random mark-making. One thinks of Jasper Johns’ work here and a kind of “post-postmodern” art. Upstairs, Marwood’s work was a mixture of two and three dimensional art – with abandoned fridge doors being the substrates for a montage of colourful plastic-lettered text. His ‘Childish Things’ series used found plastic toys, kiddy vehicles, cars, scooters, and a rocking-horse mounted on empty cardboard boxes; the boxes themselves utilised in his ‘Sentinel’ series alongside.

Andrew Smith 'Lack'

His other body of work, ‘The Assembly’ series, utilised found cardboard boxes. On these, 3-D works were scattered on small, bullet-like, empty silver gas propellant canisters. The abandoned toy-cars then hinted at lives of promise and youth misspent into empty adulthood. The Talking Heads song ‘Road to Nowhere’ came to mind here. This sense of emptying-out and abandonment was very evident, including from the works by the other two members of the trio.

Shaun Morris, the second artist, paints with a Zurbaran-inspired loose brushwork to create haunting, darkly shaded oil paintings. Much of his exhibition consisted of abandoned vehicles, many of which are vans - to hold lurking police or criminals, or even terrorists, perhaps. He is also drawn to images of consumerist waste-dumping in the street, with boxes and other ‘containers’ emptied and abandoned. His paintings make a major contribution to the show: images are often viewed at strange angles, imbued with significant critical meaning, depicting the sheer absurdity of consumerism.

The absurd was much-exemplified by all three artists, but especially Andrew Smith who explores the therapeutic or psychoanalytic perspective. Downstairs, the eclectic nature of his work included assemblages about the dis-empowered and emasculated male - with ‘stand-in’ objects such as broken electronic organ keyboard, pink giant stockings, a plastic ‘phallus’ and pink knickers with a mournful puppy pattern and a beheaded ‘King Penguin’. His work was very varied, and included coloured pencil-drawn and acrylic brick wall where both ‘controlling balance’ and ‘unbalance’ mental-states were hinted at. He also indicated the wandering colonial with a book cover: ‘Letters from China’. This artist was also the source of the artwork Visions of a Free-Floating Island’, which gave its name to the Exhibition.

Whether it be through techniques or themes, the artworks were in conversation or in exchange of ideas with one another. The art and the artists themselves depicted cohesiveness and co-operation in the face of national disunity.

Find out more about Surface Gallery and current exhibitions here 

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